The Official Story
Chapter 2

Henry Sewall mounts an attack against Rev. Mr. Foster

Hallowell's town clerk Captain Henry Sewall had experienced a profound religious conversion several years before the arrival of Isaac Foster. In his view, Foster did not understand the critical importance of man's depravity and God's grace when considering the fate of men. He thought the young minister put too much faith in human deeds and human will.

Fortunately for us, Henry Sewall (like Martha Ballard) recorded the events in his life. Sewall's diary, which is not nearly as massive as Martha's, is very different from hers in content. It is filled with the political and church events which Martha mentions only peripherally.

Read what Sewall said about a Sabbath meeting he approved of. It tells you a great deal about the kind of religious experience he was looking for. He wrote: "Evidenced a remarkable and gracious manifestation of God's peculiar goodness. Had meat to eat which the world knows not of." For Sewall, church was a place to be awakened; he wanted the heavens to open. He believed God chose those who would be saved. And he believed he'd been chosen. Like other Evangelical Congregationalists, Sewall believed that human beings are innately depraved, and that God through Christ displayed mercy and forgiveness to a predestined elect, whose salvation had nothing to do with their measley deeds on earth. Sewall clearly saw himself as one of the elect, able to sample "meat the world knows not of."

Henry Sewall was alarmed by the preaching of the young Isaac Foster. See what Sewall recorded in his diary about Foster on July 23 of 1786, on August 6 and again on August 8 and August 15. Just after Foster moved to town, Sewall complained: "Mr Foster preached --poor Doctrine." He called one of Foster's sermons "rank Arminianism." And twice, he met privately with Foster, to convince him "of the impropriety of his doctrine" and interview him "respecting his...heretical doctrines." Sewall also complained about the sermon given by Isaac Foster's brother on October 8th which he dubbed "flagrant freewill doctrine."

The "Arminians" Sewall referred were a sophisticated, mostly urban group who did not believe human beings are innately depraved; in fact, they believed that God's conduct of the universe proceeded from reasonable principles intelligible to the human mind. A letter Henry Sewall wrote to his son has survived; in it, we can read his doctrinal views of various sects, since he spelled them out to instruct his son.

What was Martha's reaction to Isaac Foster's sermons?

When Foster's ordination drew near, Sewall fasted, and prayed, and on October 4th, drew up a list of seven objections to the new minister which he presented to the young minister and to the town's ordination council. (As written up in North's town history, no objection #5 was listed.) His October 11th attempt to block the ordination failed, and the next day he sarcastically recorded Foster's claims before the council. After that he boycotted public worship, and was heard accusing the Rev. Mr. Isaac Foster of being a liar.

The New Minister
What was the response of the young Rev. Mr. Isaac Foster? Did he turn the other cheek?

Table of Contents

The History of Augusta
North, James W.
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Page 227

1790. General Henry Sewall 227

Immediately after the war, in September, 1783, he came to Fort Western in Hallowell and opened a store in connection with William Burley of Beverly, on the east side of the river near the foundry, and continued about five years in that business, when he went to New York, and on the 15th of August, 1788, opened and office at number five Water street for the purpose of buying and selling public securities, which accumulated and so rapidly depreciated in his hands that he failed. He then returned to Hallowell and was chosen town clerk, which office he held in that town and Augusta for thirty-five years, during which time he was for several years one of the selectmen. He was appointed by his kinsman, Judge David Sewall, clerk of the District Court of Maine at its organization in 1789, and held that office for twenty-nine years, until he resigned in 1919 with the judge who appinted him. At the organization of Kennebec county in 1799, he was chosen register of deeds, and held that office for seventeen years, until he was succeeded in 1816 by John Hovey.

Hel held in succession the commissions of Division Inspector, Brigadier and Major-General of the Eighth Division of the militia, comprising the counties of Lincoln, Kennebec and Somerset for thirty years, and resigned his military office to William King, the first governor of Maine, upon a new organization of the militia. “He was one of the church formed at Hallowell--south parish--over which the Rev. Mr. Gillet was ordained in August 1795, and was appointed a deacon in September following, and continued a member and officer therein--an advocate of the doctrine of free and sovereign grace.”1

Gen. Sewall was of large frame and strong features expressive of firmness, decision and will, and of military bearing, particularly when mounted on horseback. John O. Page of Hallowell, who was one of his aids, presented him with a noble white charger upon which the general made an impoing and spirited figure, but as he had short bow-legs he did not appear to good advantage on foot. He was faithful and diligent in the performance of the duties of the offices which he held. As a clerical officer he was seldom excelled. He wrote a round uniform and plain hand which gave his records the appearance of great neatness and accuracy. He was upright, conscientious, pious and rigidly orthodox in his

1MS. autobiographical sketch, Red Book Me. Hist. Soc. Coll.